Brendan Lafferty was an uncle. His niece, Alma, and nephew, Pablo, would jump into his arms the instant they saw him, eager for hours of attention.
He was a friend. "I felt like we always had this bond," said Christian Barlow, who met Brendan at St. Joseph's Prep and remained his close friend. "He had that effect on a lot of people."
He was a drummer with a rock band, which his sister Ellen Browning-Lafferty observed was a metaphor for his life. "He could help keep the beat that everyone else could sync up to," she said.
It was not a simple rhythm, but full of syncopations and complexities. His friends called him the glue that held them together.
"From the time I met him, I felt he was a brother," Barlow said. "You could talk about anything, laugh about anything, and know he wasn't judging me."
Barlow went off to college and medical school. In between, he lived with Brendan for two years. "He always felt like home," Barlow said. "Even when my parents moved away, I'd come back and stay with him."
Brendan Browning Lafferty, 33, a musician, uncle, and steadfast friend, died on the sidewalk Saturday, Aug. 4, outside his South Philadelphia apartment house as he was about to step into an Uber car. He was going to spend the night with his niece and nephew at his mother's home in West Mount Airy.
His family said they believed Brendan died of a heart attack, but the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office said it was too soon to know the cause of death.
"The Medical Examiner's Office has not made a ruling, and it's listed as pending investigation," emailed James Garrow, spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, which includes the coroner's office.
Brendan's father, James M. Lafferty, a lawyer for Community Legal Services, also died young. Just 49, he collapsed in 1999 while riding his bike in Chestnut Hill. The cause of death was a heart attack.
Brendan was born in Philadelphia to Jim Lafferty and Sharon Browning. He graduated from St. Joe's Prep in 2003.
He was serious about many things, but he was also the wittiest person in the room, his family said. In 2001, at 16, he joined an 18-person peace delegation to El Salvador from St. Vincent's Catholic Church in Germantown, where his family worshipped. That year the beleaguered country's currency, known as colóns, had been devalued to practically nothing.
One morning, he woke up covered with tropical bugs that had fallen on him during the night. He jumped up. "I feel like a million colóns," he said.
He was equally quick with a reaction in sad situations, said his sister Kate Browning-Lafferty. "He's the one who always made it bearable with his humor."
The traditional path of college in four years after high school didn't fit Brendan, and after returning to Philadelphia from Earlham College, he worked his way through the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated in 2012 with a degree in political science.
"It took a lot of guts to know it was not the right time to stay in college, to get out and find his way," said Steve Oldham, who taught him at St. Joseph's Prep. Oldham would talk about Brendan, anonymously, every year in his ethics class.
"I use him as an example of taking 'the road less traveled,' learning to use his hands in the carpentry trade, playing music with a band, living with other ex-Prepsters, and eventually deciding to return to school with a more mature, empowering vision," Oldham said. "He went back when it was right."
His circle of friends looked upon Brendan as a brother.
"If I had anything momentous happening in my life, anything important I needed to share, he was the first person I'd call," said Matt Duke, who played with Brendan in the Philadelphia rock group Seamus Browning. "I wanted to sit with him and talk with him about everything going on with me," Duke said.
Mostly, his friends and family remembered his gentleness, much like his father, who died when Brendan was 14.
"He had a degree of empathy developed at a young age, some people don't get until later or they never get," said his sister Ellen. "He was so smart. He used his intelligence for good."
Besides his mother, Sharon, sisters Ellen and Kate, niece Alma, and nephew Pablo, he is survived by an extended family.
There will be a wake from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10, at the Irish Center at 6815 Emlen St. in Mount Airy, and a memorial service at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, at St. Vincent's Roman Catholic Church, 109 E. Price St. in Germantown. Interment is at Calvary Cemetery, Conshohocken.